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Louisville Basketball: Why JaQuan Lyle Is Next Step in Rick Pitino's Master Plan

Apr 7, 2013; Atlanta, GA, USA; Louisville Cardinals head coach Rick Pitino during a press conference the day before the championship game of the 2013 Final Four of the NCAA men's basketball tournament at the Georgia Dome. Mandatory Credit: Richard Mackson-USA TODAY Sports
Richard Mackson-USA TODAY Sports
C.J. MooreCollege Basketball National Lead WriterJune 27, 2013

Rick Pitino got the third commitment from a 2014 prospect on Tuesday. The player is JaQuan Lyle and he’s a higher-rated recruit than any player that was on Louisville’s championship roster.

That alone is reason for Louisville fans to celebrate. But the more meaningful development is the long-term impact of what Pitino has accomplished already in this recruiting season.

Pitino is not rebuilding. He’s not reloading. He’s keeping the cupboard full.

Take a look at the projected depth chart for Louisville for the 2014-15 season, keeping in mind that Pitino is not finished yet and players could transfer or leave early for the pros*.

  • Guards: Kevin Ware, Chris Jones, Terry Rozier, Anton Gill, JaQuan Lyle, Quentin Snider
  • Wings: Wayne Blackshear, Shaqquan Aaron
  • Bigs: Chane Behanan, Montrezl Harrell, Akoy Agau

 

The early returns in recruiting could be Pitino capitalizing off the national title. John Calipari turned a national title in 2012 into possibly the greatest recruiting class ever in 2013.

That’s not Pitino’s goal here. Not everyone can almost build a rotation with one recruiting class like Calipari. Pitino doesn’t want that, but this class could end up as one of Pitino's best at Louisville.

No matter what happens following next season, there will still be enough talent (and likely more on the way) for Louisville to be really, really good again in 2014-15. It’s June 26, 2013, and you can say that with confidence.

For Calipari, he recruits with the assumption that a majority of his rotation will be off to the NBA. It’s hard to be consistently good when that is the case. It’s amazing that it took until this past season for his model to experience an offseason.

How Pitino is doing it almost ensures consistency. That's not to say his model is better, but Pitino is on a roll right now.

The Cardinals have been to two straight Final Fours. They won a national title. They’ll be preseason top-two this coming year. And that roster would likely be somewhere near the top five in the 2014-15 preseason, because you know most of the core is going to stick around. .

You can see that is the case when you look at the rankings of the commitments (per ESPN’s rankings): Lyle (22), Snider (28) and Aaron (53). Those three players are not in the range of most one-and-dones, but they are where you typically find guys who can make an impact right away and impact the program for multiple years. They are also attainable early.

It has become common for the top-tier guys to wait and see what happens with other players leaving early. But Pitino doesn’t need the one-and-done talents to play how he wants to play. He needs depth and speed.

That’s not to say Pitino will not take a top-tier prospect in the right situation. He’s recruiting ESPN.com’s No. 4 ranked prospect, power forward Trey Lyles, and Lyles could fill a big need if Behanan and Harrell go pro. Signing Lyle could also help his cause.

Whether he lands Lyle or not, it is becoming clear that Pitino is in the process of replicating the era that made him famous, his 1990s run at Kentucky. Tubby Smith finished that run off by giving UK its second title in three seasons with the team Pitino had built

This time around it's likely that Pitino will stick around to reap the rewards of his labor. 

*Behanan and Harrell are the most likely candidates to go pro. DraftExpress.com has both in the 2014 mock draft.

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